Canadian Musician - September/October 2017 - Page 29

WOODWINDS Bill McBirnie is an award-winning jazz and Latin flutist who was personally solicited by Sir James Galway to serve as the resident Jazz Flute Specialist at Sir James’ website. Bill has produced several acclaimed albums, including Nature Boy, Paco Paco, Mercy, and Find Your Place, all of which are currently available at CDBaby and iTunes. Bill’s most recent award-winning Brazilian “Extreme Flute” excursion with Bruce Jones is entitled Grain of Sand. You can find out more about Bill at his website, By Bill McBirnie site, The Charleston Figure C lave is generally associated with Latin (notably, Cuban) music; however, every idiom has its own, peculiar “clave.” In swing, it is based on the ride cymbal. The basic “clave” in swing is brief – only two be ats in duration – and it is “looped” in the following pattern (Ex. 1): Swing "Clave" However, there is another underlying and very important “clave” that plays a vital role in swing and it is based on the Charleston figure. You will recognize it imme- diately, because it goes like this (Ex. 2): The Charleston The formula for a Charleston figure consists of two simple elements: 1. One downbeat followed by one upbeat, and … 2. One short note followed by one long note. And that’s it! Now, if you explore the permutations and combinations of this formula, you will soon realize it can be exploited every which way. You can begin by simply changing the order of each element. For example: 1. Start with an upbeat, followed by a downbeat, or … 2. Start with a long note, followed by a short note. And the possibilities do not end there, because you can place each of these com- binations on every beat of the bar (i.e., on 1, 2, 3, or 4); further, you can reorder, concatenate, extend, and/or compress them. Indeed, almost any combination you can think of will work! Now, listen to any really good piece of music and watch for where this figure oc- curs. In small ensemble formats, the easiest place to spot it is in the comping pattern of the piano or guitar, because the comper will try to outline the harmony without W W W. C A N A D I A N M U S I C I A N . CO M playing too much and getting in the way of the melody and/or the soloist. In order to do so, the comper will typically rely on Charleston figures. In big band formats, the horn section will be working Charleston figures with, well, just about whatever is happening. Even the vocalist and soloists will be working Charleston figures in order to introduce rhythmic momentum into their lines (though the figure may occur implicitly, rather than explicitly, along the way). In any event, the Charleston figure is pres- ent in any really good musical situation. In- deed, it is happening everywhere, so internalize the feel of it and make it a part of everything you do, whether you’re playing the melody or improvising, even when your lines are in mo- tion and active. Also recognize that, if you want to “give it a rest” and introduce some rhythmic contrast, then a simple Charleston-based figure will al- ways do the trick. It will align with whatever the rhythm section is doing, even if they happen to be working a different Charleston figure at the time! In summary, the Charleston figure should be an integral part of your rhythmic “grid,” which you can use as a template in all that you do, because it is an ongoing element of the rhythm (with respect to the drumming and the comping) as well as the melody (with respect to both the head and the blowing). The Charleston figure will also enable you to fall into place with the entire band and, in addition, will levitate and infuse your lines with a certain “bounce,” putting an end to any need- less and tedious “run-on” musical sentences you might otherwise be playing! Finally, as a closing teaser, note that the Charleston figure has a bearing on other idi- oms, too, be it rock, pop, soul, R&B, or … Latin! C A N A D I A N M U S I C I A N • 29